Pear Tree Village 8746 Cooper Rd., Alexandria 360-2888 or 360-2892 Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon until 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Prices: Lunch appetizers and soups $1 to $4.50, entrees $3.95 to $4.95; dinner appetizers and soups $1.25 to $6, entrees $6.25 to $20.95. Cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Choice. Nonsmoking section available.
The menu of this restaurant, just north of Fort Belvoir, lists more than 80 generally familiar, moderately priced entrees, nearly half labeled "spicy." The entree portions are some of the most generous I've seen recently, all the more appreciated because the starters leave a lot to be desired.
The best of a disappointing sampling of hot hors d'oeuvres was an order of thick-skinned, chewy steamed dumplings with a tasty pork filling. Forget the dry, lifeless vegetable tempura and the bland, nearly meatless egg rolls.
Two of the cold starters, bon bon chicken and dan dan noodles, get better marks because of a pungent, spicy peanut sauce.
The wonton soup was acceptable with fairly meaty dumplings, but the peppery hot-sour soup had too much cornstarch, and the fish soup tasted of old fish.
The best strategy may be to skip the starters and head directly for the main courses, such as the first-rate Peking duck ($20.95), big enough to make eight good-sized portions wrapped in large, supple pancakes.
Also terrific were custardy strips of eggplant encased in crisply fried batter and bathed with a sweet and spicy sauce ($6.55). (Delicious, but certainly not "low fat, low calories and low in sodium" as the menu claims. I am told that the chef will make a steamed version with the sauce on the side for diners who wish to cut calories and fat.) A similar sweet-sour-spicy sauce over crisp nuggets of fried chicken was also quite good ($7.55).
An order of kung pao chicken was huge -- enough for two -- and nicely done.
The usually pedestrian stir-fried mixed vegetables was notable here for the lightness of the white sauce and the colorful cornucopia of ingredients -- snow peas, tofu, carrots, broccoli, baby corn and a variety of mushrooms, among others.
Other dishes that were pleasing, if not extraordinary, were the moo-shi pork, Hunan pork and Peking beef. The last two had meat that tasted overtenderized and, oddly, the usually mild Peking beef arrived almost as spicy as the Hunan pork.
Several dishes feature more than one preparation on an artfully garnished plate. A dish called "lamb of two seasons" was fairly successful, especially the curried version. On the other hand, in a recent Chinese New Year special, plump and tasty jumbo shrimp were divided among three sauces, all of which were ho-hum.
The one entree that missed the mark badly was the crispy whole fish with sweet and sour sauce -- in our case, a dried-out sea trout with none of the advertised pine nuts.
Nice finishing touches include hot, gently perfumed towels followed by a complimentary taste of sherbet.
Service was generally good, if a little harried on a recent busy Saturday night.
There is a full-service, separate bar where, on Friday and Saturday nights, you can watch the news and Chinese sitcoms from Taiwan.